Thursday, December 15, 2005

Festival Day 4

I almost missed my morning tea today. Yesterday was yet another long day of walking around Calcutta. George agreed to take me to the downtown area for shopping. With his help I got almost everything on my list in just a few hours. I have really been considering learning Bengali when I get back to the U.S. so I can manage a bit better if I ever come to Calcutta again, but his time I am thankful for George. He is also having a good time showing me his hometown. We took a break from shopping yesterday to call a couple of his friends. He wanted to make them happy by letting them speak to an American. So I sat on a phone talking about the U.S. government, the weather, school, and the T.V. show friends. It was interesting to me that this would make them happy. I was glad to do it. One of his friends kept reminding me how lucky I was to be living in America. He said that “when America sneezes, the whole world catches a cold”, and that I should be proud of that. I told him I don’t like to spread germs and we both laughed.
After shopping we headed down to George's place for a late lunch. His mother made a beautiful meal. I even tasted the chicken. It was my first time eating meat in India. They kept assuring me that it was safe, and it looked so good that I said yes. I feel great this morning, so it looks like I made a good decision. After lunch we played around on the tabla for a bit and then it was time to head to the festival. George said tonight’s program is especially fine. I took his word for it.
The program consisted of Gobindo Bose doing a tabla solo, Samaresh Chowdhury with a vocal performance, and Tejendra Narayan Majumdar on the sarod. The tabla solo started off great, aside from a few sound problems. It is difficult for me to compare all of these tabla maestros when they all play so well. Pt. Bose had the same mastery and skill that I had been seeing all week, but he kept getting more and more distracted by the sound, which sounded great in the front of house speakers, but apparently wasn’t happening in the monitors.
All of a sudden Pt. Bose began yelling backstage at the monitor guy and before I could tell what was going on he stood up and started to scream at him. The whole auditorium erupted in yelling and suddenly there were 20 people on stage. It looked as though some were trying to hold the sound guy back from coming out on stage, and Gobindo just kept waiving his arms and yelling like mad. Samarji came out to try to calm things down, but it didn’t happen. The crowd began to yell for him to continue, but he made an announcement that he would not, and that he wanted the sound guy to come out onto stage and apologize publicly. This caused more yelling and the pandemonium continued.
They lowered the curtain and everyone was in shock. Pt. Bose had flipped his lid and, for a moment, cast a black cloud over the festival. It was a shame to see an artist get so upset in front of an audience, but I guess we all have our breaking points.
When the curtain rose again the stage was calm, although the artists kept looking backstage signaling to me that the quarrel had not simmered down quite yet. The vocalist said a few words and the crowd clapped. I don’t know what he was saying, but I heard the word ‘satisfaction’ a few times. He seemed to calm the atmosphere and the festival continued.
Now, I will admit that I do not get excited for the vocalists like I do for the instrumentalists. I am not sure if it is because instrumentalists are more fun to watch, or if the vocal music is simply a finer taste to acquire, but listening to Pt. Chowdhury changed everything. He was simply amazing. At first he sang with the same beauty and grace I had been hearing all week, but then like a tiger let out of the cage, he began to roar. Flurries of notes so precise and big came ripping through the air. He seemed to be able to throw out notes that felt like a baseball was hitting your chest. His command of the rhythm was so strong, it was almost as if he was playing the tabla himself. When he finished, I felt the same excitement that I felt on the first day of the festival. The dark cloud was long gone.
The final performance of the evening was a sarod performance by Tejendra Narayan Majumdar. It was also amazing. He began with an alap, (solo introduction to the rag), that was soothing and sweet. His command of the instrument could be felt from the first note. As he played the crowd would all gasp, and react at the same moments. It was truly as if we were all on a ride together. When the tabla started to play the whole room was energized. The two players seemed to work together in a way I have not yet seen on stage here. It was yet another performance beyond words.

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